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Giving an old Tale new Relevance

The creative process behind “Cinderella”, the latest dance piece from ExperiDance (a Hungarian group with an international reputation) took around a year. That might sound like a long time, but choreographer Sándor Román insists that, given the complexities involved in this project, it really wasn’t. 

Sándor Román, choreographer and cofounder of ExperiDance.

“A straight musical can take four years to bring to the stage, including the development work with a second-tier company while it is being fine-tuned and audience tested,” Román, who cofounded ExperiDance with producer Tibor Vona in the year 2000, tells the Budapest Business Journal in an exclusive interview.

“Creating something new always takes time. If you really have enough time you can create a new dance piece in seven months, working every day to create something very special. This one year wasn’t so long.”

For a start, “Cinderella” isn’t just a dance piece. Working with the same creative team that has now put together three major productions, they brought together music, songs, actors, even an LED back projection, though Román insists the way it is being used here has never been seen before in Hungary. Then there is the audience; this is billed as a family show, but it is the children the choreographer is really trying to reach.

“Last year we opened a dance academy; today we have 150 kids. This is a big responsibility, and I realized I wanted to give them something that was very serious, very deep.”

Having spent time with the children at the academy, Román says he learned this new generation really is different. “They live on the same earth as us, but they live different lives to us.” Much of that is based around the internet and their connection to it, and through it to each other.

Román says today’s children live life at a greatly accelerated pace; what is new to us is already old to them. But he also believes they have access to too much information, while lacking the ability to filter it. They also miss some of the wisdom that could be gained from talking with their grandparents.

“I am not judging them at all; they live really great lives, but I can see what is missing from that. I believe if we can give them that missing part, they will really appreciate it.”

Characters With Depth 

And so, he went back to an old story, one everyone knows, but he stripped it back, and then started to build it up. Most importantly, not least because he was trying to pass on some life lessons to the children, he wanted the characters to have depth, and to evolve.

“Our Prince has to grow up, to understand he has to find the girl, not that the girls have to find him. He has to do something to reach her. He has to change his mentality; at the beginning, he is not a positive character.”

Likewise, Cinderella is not just a passive victim of the story. In the ExperiDance version she is also something of a village magic woman, a natural healer who makes herbal teas and soothing creams. There are more twists and surprises, characters from other classical fairytales feature, and there are entirely new creations, such as the Music Minister.

And the story is set in Esterháza, the palace in Fertőd built by Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, and known to all Hungarians (and many foreigners). “It makes it recognizable for Hungarians; the fairytale is coming to Hungary, making it closer to them.”

Little wonder, then, that it all took time. Characters had to be developed, dancers cast in the right roles (not to mention actors and singers), the animation for the LED wall prepared. Not only that; Román had to create something entirely new, but at the same time still recognizable as an ExperiDance show.

“I spent a lot of time on little details, because I believe they are important. The story has to be authentic, the characters have to be right. If they are not, the kids can recognize if something is false, if something is missing.” They can be a tough crowd, children.

“Cinderella” had its premiere on September 29. There are plans to tour the show around the country but, for now, it runs on various dates until December 31 at ExperiDance’s home theater, the RaM Colosseum at Kárpát u. 23, in District XIII, but more details can be found on the dance group’s website: experidance.hu 

FINA World Championships Opening Show 

It has been a busy year for Sándor Román, and not just with ExperiDance: on July 14, the special set piece dance he choreographed formed one of the highlights of the FINA World Championships opening show. 

“It was something I really wanted to do, because it was possible to give to the world some new information about Hungary, and I really appreciate that the artistic team creating the opening show gave us that chance. It is really possible to show the Hungarian soul through Hungarian folk dance.”

Building on Hungarian folk dance, Román created a story that spanned the Roman Empire and the coming of the Huns, shamans, Mátyás (Matthias) and the Renaissance Court, and the famous Hungarian light cavalry trooper, the huszár. But he wasn’t just working with his usual team from ExperiDance; some 500 artists, drawn from professional and amateur troupes across the country, were on stage.

“The dancers were really wonderful: it was my responsibility to give them good material; they had to trust in me and follow my vision. At the end, I think the success was enough to give something back to the dancers. I am very proud of them.”